Phloem tissue is composed of sieve tube cells, which form long columns with holes in their end walls called sieve plates. Cytoplasmic strands pass through the holes in the sieve plates, so forming continuous filaments. As hydrostatic pressure in the sieve tube of phloem increases, pressure flow begins, and the sap moves through the phloem. Meanwhile, at the sink, incoming sugars are actively transported out of the phloem and removed as complex carbohydrates. The loss of solute produces a high water potential in the phloem, and water passes out, returning eventually to xylem.

A simple experiment, called girdling, was used to identify the tissues through which food is transported. On the trunk of a tree a ring of bark up to a depth of the phloem layer, can be carefully removed. In the absence of downward movement of food the portion of the bark above the ring on the stem becomes swollen after a few weeks. This simple experiment shows that phloem is the tissue responsible for translocation of food; and that transport takes place in one direction, i.e., towards the roots. This experiment can be performed by you easily.




Plants obtain a variety of inorganic elements (ions) and salts from their surroundings especially from water and soil. The movement of these nutrients from environment into the plant as well as from one plant cell to another plant cell essentially involves movement across a cell membrane. Transport across cell membrane can be through diffusion, facilitated transport or active transport. Water and minerals absorbed by roots are transported by xylem and the organic material synthesised in the leaves is transported to other parts of plant through phloem.

Passive transport (diffusion, osmosis) and active transport are the two modes of nutrient transport across cell membranes in living organisms. In passive transport, nutrients move across the membrane by diffusion, without any use of energy as it is always down the concentration gradient and hence entropy driven. This diffusion of substances depends on their size, solubility in water or organic solvents. Osmosis is the special type of diffusion of water across a selectively permeable membrane which depends on pressure gradient and concentration gradient. In active transport, energy in the form of ATP is utilised to pump molecules against a concentration gradient across membranes. Water potential is the potential energy of water molecules which helps in the movement of water. It is determined by solute potential and pressure potential. The osmotic behaviour of cells depends on the surrounding solution. If the surrounding solution of the cell is hypertonic, it gets plasmolysed. The absorption of water by seeds and drywood takes place by a special type of diffusion called imbibition.

In higher plants, there is a vascular system comprising of xylem and phloem, responsible for translocation. Water minerals and food cannot be moved within the body of a plant by diffusion alone. They are therefore, transported by a mass flow system – movement of substance in bulk from one point to another as a result of pressure differences between the two points.

Water absorbed by root hairs moves into the root tissue by two distinct pathways, i.e., apoplast and symplast. Various ions, and water from soil can be transported upto a small height in stems by root pressure. Transpiration pull model is the most acceptable to explain the transport of water. Transpiration is the loss of water in the form of vapours from the plant parts through stomata. Temperature, light, humidity, wind speed and number of stomata affect the rate of transpiration. Excess water is also removed through tips of leaves of plants by guttation.

Phloem is responsible for transport of food (primarily) sucrose from the source to the sink. The translocation in phloem is bi-directional; the source-sink relationship is variable. The translocation in phloem is explained by the pressure-flow hypothesis.




1. What are the factors affecting the rate of diffusion?

Diffusion is the passive movement of substances from a region of higher concentration to a region of lower concentration. The diffusion of substances plays an important role in cellular transport in plants. The rate of diffusion is affected by the concentration gradient, membrane permeability, temperature, and pressure. Diffusion takes place as long as there is a difference between the concentrations of a substance across a barrier. However, diffusion stops, when the concentrations of the substance on either side of the barrier become equal. The permeability of a membrane affects the rate of diffusion. Diffusion rate increases as membrane permeability increases. Changes in temperature and pressure values also affect the diffusion of substances. Pressure plays an important role in the diffusion of gases as gases diffuse from a region of higher partial pressure to a region of lower partial pressure.